First quarter 2021: Return to growth for all activities in an improving environment
- Press Releases
Commenting on sales in the 1st quarter of 2021, Benoît Potier, Chairman and CEO of the Air Liquide Group, said:
“This first quarter saw solid growth of +3.8% on a comparable basis, confirming the trend recorded in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Sales reached 5.3 billion euros, including 5.1 billion euros for Gas & Services, which grew +2.8% on a comparable basis. This growth confirms the recovery seen in all of our Gas & Services activities. Strong momentum was also seen in the Engineering & Construction and Global Markets & Technologies business lines.
In Gas & Services, which account for 96% of Group sales, growth was particularly strong in Healthcare at +10%. In the industrial sector, the Industrial Merchant activity showed positive growth for the first time since the start of the health crisis, while Large Industries grew, driven by the start-up of new units and the marked recovery in the Steel and Chemicals markets. In terms of geographies, Asia showed very strong growth, led by China, while Europe grew solidly. The Americas region posted contrasted performance, impacted by an exceptional cold wave in the United States.
Regarding efficiencies, the Group continued to take action to improve performance. In the 1st quarter of 2021, 95 million euros in efficiencies were generated, in line with its target to achieve 400 million euros over the year. In addition, the cost reduction measures linked to the crisis have been largely maintained in the context of the gradual recovery in activity. Cash flow is high and stands at more than 23% of sales, an improvement of +100 basis points.
The investment decisions for the quarter amounted to 600 million euros. The 12-month portfolio of opportunities continued to grow and stands at 3.2 billion euros. The proportion of projects linked to the energy transition has continued to increase and is now at 46%. These investments will contribute to future growth.
Financial performance and sustainable development are at the heart of Air Liquide’s growth model. In a global health context that still differs from region to region, the Group remains committed to supplying healthcare facilities with medical oxygen. In addition, the Group set out particularly ambitious sustainable development objectives last March. A structured plan will allow it to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and to accelerate in the field of hydrogen and the deployment of decarbonization solutions for the industry.
In 2021, in a context of limited local lockdowns in the first half of the year and recovery in the second half, Air Liquide is confident in its ability to further increase its operating margin and to deliver recurring net profit(1) growth, at constant exchange rates.”
(1) Recurring net profit: Excluding significant and exceptional items with no impact on recurring operating income. Excluding the impact of a possible US tax reform in 2021.
Group revenue for Q1 2021 totaled 5,334 million euros, in a still challenging but improving global health and economic environment. Sales increased by +3.8% on a comparable basis with Q1 2020, which had been affected by the health crisis in Asia, and more specifically in China, and then in Europe from mid-March 2020. The consolidated revenue of Engineering & Construction recorded strong growth of +48.5% compared to lower activity due to the pandemic in Q1 2020. Global Markets & Technologies activity was up by +25.7%, driven by the ramp-up of biogas units and sales of equipment with high technological added-value. The Group’s published revenue was down slightly by -0.7% due to negative currency (-5.1%) and significant scope (-2.7%) impacts, partially offset by the energy impact (+3.3%).
Gas & Services revenue totaled 5,103 million euros, up by + 2.8% on a comparable basis. Sales as published for Q1 2021 were down -1.7%, penalized by negative currency (-5.1%) and significant scope (-2.8%) impacts, partially offset by the energy impact (+3.4%). The significant scope impact mostly reflects the disposal of Schülke in Healthcare.
- Gas & Services revenue in the Americas region was down by -1.5% on a comparable basis, at 2,003 million euros in Q1 2021. In North America, after a strong month of January, sales were impacted as of mid-February by the historic winter storm on the Gulf Coast, notably in the Large Industries business. In Latin America, sales grew strongly in all businesses. Large Industries revenue was down by -4.2% overall in the region. Industrial Merchant recorded a sequential recovery, with a limited drop in sales of -3.2% compared to -5.2% in Q4 2020. Healthcare remains fully committed to the fight against the pandemic, notably to meet the exceptionally high demand for medical oxygen, and posted +13.3% growth in sales. Electronics revenue was close to stable (-0.6%).
- Revenue for the Europe region reached 1,797 million euros, up by +4.5% on a comparable basis. Industrial activities have returned to growth, with higher comparable sales compared to Q1 2019. Large Industries sales were stable compared to Q1 2020. Industrial Merchant activity showed a strong improvement, with sales growth of +3.6% in Q1 2021 compared to a -1.3% decline in Q4 2020. Representing more than a third of Gas & Services sales in Europe, Healthcare activities remained highly mobilized to fight against the pandemic, with sales up by +8.8%.
- Sales in the Asia-Pacific region grew strongly by +6.7% on a comparable basis, to 1,150 million euros, with all business lines recording growth in Q1 China (+12.8%) contributed significantly, and benefited from a favorable comparison basis with Q1 2020 greatly impacted by the health crisis. In the rest of the region, sales increased by +2.4%. Volumes recorded strong momentum in Large Industries, which posted a +8.7% rise in revenue. The strong sales growth in the Industrial Merchant business (+10.6%) was mainly supported by the momentum in China, with sales in the rest of the region just returning to growth. The Electronics business (+1.3%) benefited from the ramp-up of new carrier gases units but with weaker sales of Advanced Materials and Equipment & Installation.
- Revenue in the Middle East and Africa totaled 153 million euros, up by a strong +17.5% on a comparable basis in Q1. Large Industries sales benefited from a rise in demand from customers connected to the pipeline network in Saudi Arabia and a favorable comparison effect due to a customer turnaround in Q1 2020. Industrial Merchant revenue continued to rise supported by a strong activity in India and Egypt. Healthcare is mobilized in the fight against Covid-19, with strong sales growth across the entire region.
All business lines posted growth compared to Q1 2020. Healthcare sales recorded a strong increase of +10.1% on a comparable basis, with teams still mobilized in the fight against Covid-19. Large Industries revenue grew by +3.0% despite the impact of the winter storm on the Gulf Coast in mid-February, notably supported by the contribution of new production units. Industrial Merchant revenue returned to growth (+0.3%), supported by the pick-up in volumes, solid pricing of +1.6%, and strong activity in China. Sales in Electronics were up by +1.8% and by +2.8% excluding Equipment & Installation sales.
The consolidated revenue of Engineering & Construction stood at 76 million euros, up a strong +48.5%, notably with growth in sales to third-party customers. Total sales, which include internal sales, rose by +19% in Q1 2021. Order intake stood at 285 million euros, with more than 85% of orders corresponding to projects in Asia, notably in Chemicals.
The sales of Global Markets & Technologies totaled 155 million euros, up a strong +25.7% on a comparable basis, driven notably by a strong momentum in the Biogas business. Order intake for Group projects and third-party customers totaled 163 million euros.
Efficiencies() reached 95 million euros, increased by close to +5% compared with the 1st quarter 2020, in line with the annual objective set at more than 400 million euros. Moreover, the exceptional cost reduction plan in response to the public health crisis has continued and was adapted to the progressive recovery in overall activity, as many local lockdown measures are still in place. These cost reductions are not, due to their nature, sustainable in the long-term.
Cash flow from operating activities before changes in working capital totaled 1,243 million euros, representing an increase of +3.9% and +9.7% excluding currency impact, once again underlining the resilience of the business model. This corresponds to 23.3% of sales, a marked improvement of +100 basis points compared with the 1st quarter of 2020. It allowed, in particular, the financing of industrial capital expenditure, which totaled 688 million euros, representing 12.9% of sales.
Following an extremely high level of investment decisions totaling more than 1 billion euros in the 4th quarter of 2020, industrial investment decisions in the 1st quarter of 2021 amounted to 569 million euros. The 12-month portfolio of investment opportunities continues to grow and stood at 3.2 billion euros at the end of March, approximately 100 million euros more than at the end of 2020. The nature of opportunities is changing, with energy transition on the rise, now representing 46% of the portfolio.
The additional contribution to sales of unit start-ups and ramp-ups is high, totaling 65 million euros over the 1st quarter of 2021. In 2021, the additional contribution to sales of unit start-ups and ramp-ups is expected to reach around 250 million euros, plus the contribution from the 16 units in the process of being acquired in South Africa, pending approval from antitrust authorities, expected by the end of June. The latter is estimated at around 60 million euros for 2021, with Air Liquide not managing energy in a first phase. Revenue should reach over 400 million euros per year in a second phase, when energy management is fully integrated, without any significant impact on operating income.
- ^ See definition in Appendix.
AirLiquide_Q1 2021: Activity reportDownload the document PDF 493.09 KB